Carl Lewis is arguably one of the great runners of the 20th century, especially in form. Even he however, does not have all the components of great technique. Carl Lewis has good form with a few simple flaws. If you notice on the starting blocks, Carl Lewis pushes-off, completely extending his leg to no avail. When on support at the starting blocks, the majority of your body-weight rests on your hands. When you release your hands, your support shifts to your feet. This steep angle of incline cannot be maintained while running. It can however be used in order to gain momentum and speed very quickly. It is an advantageous position of acceleration because you do not have to lean into your run – on the contrary, you start your run with a tremendous lean. Once you are airborne, how much can you push-off off the ground? Not very far. Try to imagine pushing out of the starting blocks similarly. What good does it do to “extend” the support foot if there is no body-weight to back it? All of your body-weight is now airborne, the only reason you still have a foot on support is because you aren’t moving fast enough to pull it off of the ground. Knowing that, there is no reason to exert any special efforts to “push-off” after the starting blocks. The focus needs to be on shifting support as quickly as possible: pull – pull – pull.
Moving to the swing phase of his leg, Lewis uses his hip flexors in order to “raise his knees.” This unnecessary movement has no benefit. Conversely, it detracts from the overall efficiency of running. If you imagine your legs as the movers, and your general center of mass as the mover, it is easy to grasp the purpose of running – to move your body through space and time – faster. Lets relate running to the wheel. If your foot is extended in front, it will be extended in back. With this image, how effective is an oval versus a wheel? There is no competition. Overall less energy is used to power the wheel continuously versus the strain it takes to lift an oval on its acute curve and then rest until the next heaving motion. We can compare our legs in running to a train’s wheel system. It makes no sense to apply force beyond the body. But when kept in a small tight turnover the legs can become very efficient. Everyone knows the saying “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” However, no one applies it to running. The fact is, your legs aren’t going anywhere without your body. Swinging your foot out in front has no benefit, only energy loss and muscle imbalance. How is the foot thrown out? With the hip flexors. When observed in real time, this exaggerated range of motion can be perceived as “raising the knees.” Ever heard the term “high knees?” Primarily used by track and field coaches, this outdated drill has little impact on running improvement. Its use lies in using the hip flexors to keep the hips steady while on support, not to drive the knees forward like many coaches profess.
Lewis forces his swing leg down ahead of the body, primarily with the hamstrings. This led to many of his injuries, which kept him out of serious competition. Throughout his run, not including the starting blocks, Carl Lewis does not push-off, he does however push-down. This new term is coined as a consequence of a discussion featured on our forum about the technique of Carl Lewis. No muscle in the body has the ability to push. Muscles only have two functions, to contract and relax (a third can be added to this list for those that get spasms and we’ll call this twitch :-P). Our ability to push something is primarily due to three aspects – gravity, body-weight, and muscle contraction (pulling). Without body-weight, our muscles are meaningless. Without gravity, our body-weight is meaningless. Whether we push or pull something depends solely on the direction in which we apply force. When we pull something towards us with our hands we use our biceps, when we push something we use our triceps. Our muscles are only able to contract (pull) and relax. In the same manner, Carl Lewis uses his hamstrings improperly by pushing (pulling with the hamstring) his leg down early and landing ahead of the body. What does a runner gain by bringing down the swing foot with force? Nothing. Some argue that this motion helps recoil the leg naturally with ground reaction force forcing the tendons, ligaments, and muscles to contract. Since the foot has no point-of-support while in the air we can rule out the use of ankles to push. So we can conclude that the majority of this “pushing” force comes from the hamstrings. The hamstrings work to pull your foot from the ground (even with elasticity). They also work to stop your swing foot from flying out in-front of your body. Pulling is done actively in Pose, the latter is done passively in the Pose Method. Hence Dr. Romanov saying “Do Nothing.” Forcing or pushing your foot down imposes excessive stress on the hamstrings. This dual use of your hamstrings, to pull your foot from the ground and to pull your foot violently back down, leads to injuries because of the polarized use of the hamstring muscles.
Have you ever tried to do chin-ups while forcing yourself down in order to gain the elasticity of tendons and ligaments in your arms to pull you up again? Probably not. You probably pulled up, and relaxed on the way down, but not all the way down. You kept your elbows bent in order to keep yourself in rhythm, as well as to decrease your down time (in running, time on support) so that you didn’t lose momentum of the movement. Another example that everyone has tried – which rubber band flies farther? The one that you hold, aim, pull back, aim some more then release – or the rubber band that you aim, pull back and quickly release? Elasticity goes a long way with quickness. A quick support insures a greater use of muscle elasticity while pulling your foot from the ground. If you force your foot down, it inadvertently forces you to land early and ahead of the body as well as, lengthens your overall support time. That is why this rhythm of essential timing is so crucial to the Pose Method. The purpose is to move your body through space and time – faster. The movers don’t get anywhere ahead of the mover. Landing too early or pulling too late causes you use excessive muscle efforts, and what makes it worse, it’s all for nothing.
Aside from the bad aspects of his run, it’s important to mention that Carl Lewis did not always run with these errors (In the words of Dr. Romanov, an error is a big mistake, and a mistake is a small error :-P). Many times he ran while landing perfectly under the body, which erased many of the other mistakes. At which point the only things wrong with his form would be the starting blocks and the swing phase where he actively used his hip flexors. Most of the time this had little effect on his performance, but over time, or over distance, these effects are magnified and could lead to injury. One error leads to many more, which is why it is essential to run Pose precisely – not passively. How often are you on cruise control when playing tennis or shooting basketball? Sports require focus – running is no exception.